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When Was the Last Time That We’ve Opened a Book*

If you’re kind enough to read this blog on a regular basis, you’ll know that I don’t do book reviews. There are others a lot better qualified than I am to do that. But I do enjoy talking about books, especially with other book lovers. That’s one thing I love about the book blogging community.

Nearly five years ago, the book blogging community lost one of its dear friends, Maxine Clarke. As a way of remembering Maxine, and the contributions she made to the community, Bill Selnes at Mysteries and More From Saskatchewan made a terrific suggestion. It was his idea that different crime fiction bloggers would contribute reviews of fine crime fiction they’d read to Petrona Remembered, a rich resource for crime novels. I’m proud to say I’m contributing today.

Please pay me a visit at Petrona Remembered, where I’ll explain why I think Maxine would have really enjoyed Caroline Overington’s Sisters of Mercy. Then, if you’re so inclined, please consider contributing a review of one of your own top crime fiction reads. Maxine always liked to hear about the books people were enjoying.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Into it. Over it’s Open a Book.

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Spendin’ All Our Money on Brand New Novels*

About a week ago, I asked for your opinions about the book formats you prefer. Thanks very much to those of you who got involved in the conversation. I learned a lot, and it was really interesting to discuss how we read, and what we like and dislike about the different reading formats. Thanks to those of you who voted in the poll, too. I thought it might be interesting to take a bit of a closer look at your responses. Let’s see what you had to say.

Here’s what you told me about your reading preferences:
 

 

As you can see, of the 18 of you who indicated a specific preference, 14 (78%) told me that you prefer paper books. And there is a lot to recommend them. A few of you commented about the special feeling of a paper book. Others of you had other reasons for liking paper format the best. Three of you (17%) told me that you prefer ebooks, and there are some good reasons to do so. They’re convenient, often less expensive, and so on. One of you (5%) said you prefer audio books. There’s nothing like that format for taking a walk, getting chores done, and that commute. But the majority of you said you prefer paper books.

On the surface of it, then, it would seem that publishers and self-publishers should focus on the paper format if your opinions are representative of the wider community of book buyers. But it’s not that simple. If we look a little more closely at your preferences, we can see that it isn’t a matter of everyone preferring a particular format to the exclusion of all others. You’ll notice here that the number of responses is a bit higher here. I would say that’s likely because of the number of you who told me you don’t have a reading preference, and the fact that you were free to make multiple choices (e.g. ‘I prefer paper…’ and ‘I have a preference, but I buy other formats.’). That said, let’s see what more you told me about your preferences:
 

 

As you can see, of the 23 of you who told me something about your reading preferences, 17 of you (74%) told me that you have a preference, but that you buy more than one format. That makes sense, too, if you think about it. You may, for instance, read mostly paper books at home, but take an e-reader when you travel. Or, you may prefer e-books, but buy paper books when it’s a special edition, an author you love, or for some other particular reason. Two of you (9%) told me that you have no format preference. That flexibility gives the reader access to a wider selection of books from more places. Four of you (17%) told me that you have a very strong preference, and won’t buy other formats. What that means to me is that most of you (83%) buy more than one format, whether or not you have a preference.

And that’s an important thing for authors, publishers and publicists to keep in mind. As I see this, if your opinions reflect the opinions of most book buyers, then you don’t confine yourself to just one format. So, if a publisher or author wants to get books into as many hands as possible, it makes sense to have them available in different formats. That’s particularly true for authors and publishers who want to do business in other countries. That means more time and potentially more cost. But if it also means a wider audience, it may be worth it.

That said, it seems that, at least among you folks, people really do like their paper books. What do you folks think of all of this? If you’re an author, do you make your work available in multiple formats?

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Moxy Fruvous’ My Baby Loves a Bunch of Authors.

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I’d Like to Tell My Story*

Not long ago, I had an interesting comment exchange with crime writer and fellow blogger Sue Coletta. Before I go on, let me encourage you to visit Sue’s terrific blog. It’s a treasure trove of true crime stories, useful information for crime writers, and a lot more. You’ll also want to try her crime fiction. You won’t regret it.

Today’s technology has meant that, more and more, book lovers have choices when it comes to how they experience stories. And that’s what Sue and I were discussing. There are, of course, paper books, both hardback and paperback. Many people swear that there’s nothing like holding and reading an actual book. In fact, that’s what a lot of people think of when they think of reading: picking up a book with an appealing cover, opening it, and being drawn into a story. Books do have a special appeal, and they don’t run low on battery, so you never have to recharge them.

But, of course, paper books have their drawbacks. For one thing, they take up a lot of space. If you’ve ever moved house and had to pack and then unpack your books, you know exactly what I mean. And just try to bring along half a dozen or so books for a trip somewhere, especially if they’re long books. It’s also very hard to read a paper book while you’re taking a walk or driving. And, of course, there’s the expense, especially of having a book shipped to you from another country.

Fortunately, there are other options. Millions of people now have e-readers, such as the Kindle or the Nook. There are a lot of advantages to electronic reading. My Kindle Fire fits into a medium-sized handbag, and contains hundreds of books. So, it’s the perfect choice for travel. And many books that aren’t available in other formats (especially books from other countries) are available in e-format. Ebooks are often less expensive than paper books, too.

But that’s not a perfect solution, either. E-readers do need to be re-charged, which can be inconvenient. And, unlike paper books, an ebook can be removed from one’s collection without warning. That’s not to mention the frustration when you try to download a book you’ve bought, only to find that something went wrong with the download.

Audio books offer another appealing option for experiencing a story. They’re quite portable, so you can be drawn into a story when you’re out for a run, commuting, doing housework, or walking the dog. They’re perfect travel companions, too. They don’t take up much room, and when you’re listening to a story during a flight, you don’t have to listen to the person next to you snoring, or choose from among bad, worse, or worst in-flight films. And there’s something else about audio books. They evoke a time when stories were told orally, and people listened to the storyteller weave the magic. A skilled narrator can do much to add to a story, and that person alone can draw you in. That’s to say nothing of the way audio books have opened up a world of stories for those with blindness and other reading difficulties.

Of course, audio books can’t easily be autographed by the author. And it can be harder to find the book you want in audio format. If the narrator is off-putting for whatever reason, that can spoil the experience, which can put you off a story that would otherwise be appealing.

The moral of the story here seems to be that all three formats have a lot of advantages and some disadvantages. The reality may very well be that most of us experience stories in more than one way for just that reason. But people do tend to have preferences (e.g. ‘Well, I’d rather have it in paper, but if the only format available is an e-book, I’ll get it that way;’ or ‘I really only get paper/ebook/audio, so I’ll wait for the book to come out that way.’).

Because people have preferences, publishers and authors have to consider carefully how they’ll make their books available. Making a book available in more than one format takes time and effort. Trust me. Most publishers and authors find that it’s worth the effort, because a story will potentially reach more readers. But it does represent an investment.

What do you think of all this? Do you prefer one format or another? Or are you not concerned with format? I’d really like to know your thoughts, so please, feel free to vote in this little poll, and we’ll talk about it more in a week or so. When you vote, you’ll be able to make more than one choice (e.g. ‘I prefer paper books’ and ‘I have a very strong preference and won’t buy other formats.’)
 

 

Thanks, Sue, for the inspiration!
 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Leonard Cohen’s A Bunch of Lonesome Heroes.

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In The Spotlight: Stark Holborn’s Nunslinger: Book 1

Hello, All,

Welcome to another edition of In The Spotlight. Like a lot of people, I learn about many new-to-me authors and books from blog friends. It’s a good way to broaden my reading horizons and try something I might not otherwise read. For instance, I learned about Star Holborn’s Nunslinger series from Col, who blogs at Col’s Criminal Library. Thanks, Col; I might not otherwise have gotten the chance to ‘meet’ Sister Thomas Josephine. Let’s turn the spotlight on this series today, and take a close look at Nunslinger: Book 1.

The story begins in 1864, as Sister Thomas Josephine is making her way from the St. Louis convent where she lives, to start over again in Sacramento, California. The wagon train she’s joined has been attacked in Wyoming, and she’s left stranded. Fortunately, she’s rescued by Lieutenant Theodore Carthy and his men, part of a group of Federal troops in the area.

After a short rest, Sister Josephine is given permission to say some prayers for the members of the wagon train who were killed. She’s just finished the rudimentary ceremony when she’s taken hostage by a grifter named Abraham Muir. Very soon, it’s clear that Muir and Carthy know each other and are far from being friends. With the nun as his ‘security,’ Muir takes off on his horse.

Muir assures Sister Josephine that he’s going to release her at Medicine Bow, where she can rest and then go on to Sacramento. Instead, she insists on being left at a trading post that’s not far away, and Muir reluctantly agrees. Trouble strikes at the trading post, though, when the two are ambushed by people who’ve been waiting for Muir. He’s badly injured, and he and Sister Josephine barely escape. They go into hiding, where she tends his wound as best she can.

At first, Sister Josephine thinks of Lt. Carthy as a hero who rescued her, and of Muir as her captor. But she soon learns that it’s not that simple, when Muir tells her his story. It seems that he is a former Union Army member who left after a tragic shooting.   Muir also tells Sister Josephine that Carthy is not to be trusted, and that he’s responsible for the murders of innocent Sioux.

Muir and Sister Josephine are rescued and taken to Fort Laramie, where they again encounter Carthy. At Sister Josephine’s insistence, Muir gets medical treatment. Her own plan, once Muir is out of danger, is to once again set off on her journey to Sacramento. While she’s at Fort Laramie, though, she’s torn between what she has seen of both Carthy and Muir, and what each has told her about the other. She’s concerned, too; after all, her own safety depends on which of the two men is closer to telling the truth. She gets her answer in a shocking way.

The story takes place in the US West of 1864, and that context is clear throughout. Travel is rough, dangerous, and dirty. Medical supplies are few, and the land is rugged and unforgiving. Even in places such as Wyoming, where this is set, the US Civil War is felt, and there is a bit of talk about it. But for the most part, the focus is on the ongoing conflict between settlers and the Native Americans who’ve lived there for centuries.

The writing style is consistent with the context:

 ‘I rose from the blanket into the chill air and extended stiff limbs. It was not so different to my cell in St. Louis. The thought of the convent, with more than ten years’ worth of my tread on its floors, filled me again with purpose, reminded me of my duty.’

As you can see, the story is told from Sister Josephine’s point of view (first person, past tense), so we get to know her. At the beginning of the story, she’s somewhat of an innocent, although she is far from gullible. Still, she’s unaccustomed to life in the unsettled West, and certainly to the violence and rough living there. But she learns very quickly, and as the story goes on, we see her begin to evolve. She’s smart and quick-thinking, too.

As much as anything else, this is an adventure story. Readers who like to ‘go for the ride’ in their crime fiction will appreciate the ‘ups and downs.’ There are narrow escapes, some treachery, people who turn out not to be trustworthy, and more. In fact, this story, Nunslinger: Book 1, is the first in a series of books, and ends with a dramatic incident. That event turns out to be the catalyst for Book 2 (there are 12 books, all told, some of which end with cliffhangers). This particular book is more or less novella-sized (my edition clocked in at 80 pages). Readers who enjoy sampling an author’s work will appreciate that.

Nunslinger: Book 1 is an adventure story that takes place in the American ‘Old West,’ with all of its beauty and dangers. As with most adventure-type crime stories, the pace is fast, and the stakes are very high. The story features a smart and determined, if a bit unlikely, protagonist, who has to learn quickly and think wisely if she’s going to stay alive. But what’s your view? Have you read Nunslinger: Book 1? If you have, what elements do you see in it?

 
 
 

Coming Up On In The Spotlight

Monday, 13 November/Tuesday, 14 November – Blacklands – Belinda Bauer

Monday, 20 November/Tuesday, 21 November – Dead Lemons – Finn Bell

Monday, 27 November/Tuesday, 28 November – Days Are Like Grass – Sue Younger

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Crime Fiction News Break


 

Links You’ll Want

Ngaio Marsh Awards

Fiona Sussman

Finn Bell

Michael Bennett

Anthony Award Winners

Hull Noir

Iceland Noir

BGE Irish Book Awards Night

NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) 

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